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If you like castles, but want more bang for your castle quid than the disappointing palace at Brighton, I recommend Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. The official residence of HRH Queen Elizabeth II in Scotland, Holyrood sits at the bottom of the Royal Mile between the city and the Salisbury crags.
You can’t go up into the apartments that the royal family use now, but you can wander through the public reception rooms and the apartments of Mary, Queen of Scots (which are really much more interesting anyway).
Mary liked both of the castles on the Royal Mile; her son James was born up the hill at Edinburgh castle, and she spent some time decorating her rooms at Holyrood to mimic the “sophisticated interior style of the South”.
A tiny room off her bedchamber was used as a dining room where Mary would sit with her ladies in waiting and entertain her private secretary David Rizzio. Her second husband Lord Darnley took issue with how close a relationship Mary had with her secretary, and one day he and a gang of personal thugs stormed into the queen’s bedchamber at Holyrood and stabbed Rizzio fifty-seven times while he clutched desperately to Mary’s gown.
Rizzio was buried out here. Seems unpleasant king consorts can kill anyone they want without getting into trouble. Even their wife’s boyfriend
Now that’s a crime of passion. But not really. While Lord Darnley probably wasn’t jealous of the romantic relationship Rizzio may have had with Mary, he was a little concerned about the how the closeness between the two might effect his proximity to the throne. He had previously attacked Mary in attempt to cause her to miscarry, and was otherwise an unpleasant, violent, syphilis riddled drunk.
I was told that going to the Royal Pavilion was the best seven pounds you can spend in Brighton. It cost me 8.50. Maybe it would have been more impressive at seven pounds. It’s the tackiest place I’ve ever been in my life.
In 1786 Prince Regent George IV came to Brighton to get up to some mischief (as would any young person with free time, a free spirit and a reliable line of credit). Buying a farm by the beach, he built the palace over the property’s existing buildings with wire, iron beams, plaster and rock. It seems more thought went into the faux Oriental design than reliable construction – almost immediately after it was built the abundant rain and sea air started to corrode the building.
Conserving the palace has been an uphill battle ever since, and it shows. Pieces of the exterior moldings are flaking off everywhere. Over the past 200 years the building has suffered from dry rot, rising damp, severe structural problems, arson attacks and even a piece of ornamental roofing coming loose in a hurricane and becoming embedded in the floor. The condition of the building is so bad it is said that palace is cursed, either due to the intertwining of snakes and dragons in the décor throughout (considered unlucky in Chinese tradition) or the debauched life the prince led here.
(Unfortunately it is not permitted to take pictures inside the palace – just imagine Disneyland crossed with the interior of a Chinese restaurant run by someone who’s never been out of Essex. Actually, that’s probably quite close to the design brief George came up with.)
George (king from 1820 onwards) became more reclusive as his weight ballooned and he developed dropsy and gout. I had thought that Dropsy was one of Beatrix Potter’s rabbits, but actually it’s a condition where one’s organs retain interstitial fluid and swell beyond normal size. Just as fluffy, not as cute. Next door at the museum and gallery there is a pair of the king’s trousers on display. They are magnificently large. Gout could hardly have a more stately home.
Even in his diseased old age he frequently spent time at the palace (although resigned to a more subdued and secluded existence) and took frequent baths in restorative Brighton waters pumped up from the beach. I’m not sure if Brighton’s waters still have many beneficial effects. Unless standing soap foam is any good for you:
There is something very fitting about the most famous building in Brighton being essentially a themed nightclub built by a bored and sleazy monarch. George kept the palace excessively warm to encourage guests to remove clothing, and installed excessively plush carpets to make guests unsteady on their feet. It’s no wonder Queen Victoria swiftly sold the palace to the Brighton and Hove city council soon after she became queen.